June 29, 2007

Jonhson Creek Road

After a tough couple of weeks, I needed to get away for a while. I managed to get a Friday off and cloudy weather was predicted, so another day of creek hunting was just the medicine I needed. I wasn't sure where exactly I was headed until I got to Sumner and was forced to chose. I wanted to go somewhere new, or at least somewhere I hadn't seen in so long it seemed new. I thought about heading down to the Lewis River, but I didn't realize until looking at the map how far south that was. Still, I headed in that general direction, without a real destination in mind.

I ended up on Skate Creek Road (FS-52) in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It's a pretty major thoroughfare down to Highway 12, but I've never seen it so desolate. I saw almost no one there at all. It's a nice drive along the creek, and I stopped at one place to investigate a waterfall on the opposite side. A footpath lead down the steep slope to the creek side, but the underbrush got thick and thorny very quickly. I considered bushwhacking father, and even started chopping through with my makeshift walking stick, but it wasn't good enough for that much effort. I made a little side trip up Butter Creek (FS-5270), based on vague memories of the creeks from the last time I was there, but the winter floods had carved deep trenches in the road and I had to turn around just after the main creek crossing.

Glacier Creek I wandered next down to Johnson Creek Road (FS-21), across Highway 12. I'd been here before, but I only remembered the creek crossing near the snow park, so everything south of there was new to me. The Glacier Creek crossing was very photogenic, so I stopped there to shoot a while. I wanted to follow an offshoot (FS-2115) farther down the creek, but blowdowns blocked the way. Walking the road showed it was indeed very photogenic, but I couldn't find a safe way down to the creek. The map showed a trail (#89) that follows the creek up to Glacier Lake, but I didn't have my hiking gear with me so it would have to wait. It's definitely on my list now.

I followed several small offshoot roads that either went nowhere or were blocked by blowdowns or washouts. One lead to a nice solitary camping spot on a cliff face overlooking the valley. That would be a nice place to camp. The road along Deception Creek (FS-2130) was longer and looked promising, but turned out to be the same. I crossed several washout areas that were rather dicey, but ultimately had to turn around at a major washout on the first creek after the big bend. I had hoped that the road crossing upstream on Deception Creek would be a decent shot, but now there was no way to reach it. Without a trail or other destination on this road, I wonder if they will ever fix it.

Unnamed Waterfall Then I dropped down into the North Fork Cispus River area following FS-22, a nice winding road down the valley. None of this looked familiar at all, although I remembered the far western section. The St. John and St. Michael creek crossings were decent but not photoworthy, but the creeks coming off Horseshoe Point were another matter. The first waterfall reminded me of one I'd seen at Rainier. It was about twenty feet tall and there was a strategically placed piece of wood at the base of the fall. I wanted to shoot up the creek, but there was a large and unattractive pile of debris just down from the base, so I had to hike up the creek to shoot over it. Shooting up in the light rain proved a little difficult, but I did manage to keep the lens dry enough for a few shots. There was another waterfall at the next creek crossing, but my batteries were running low and I decided to just take a few snapshots to record it. It would be difficult to shoot with the vegetation and debris, and as this was more exposed, the wind was blow the falling water right into the lens.

Unnamed Waterfall

My last stop of the day was at Timonium Creek on a spur road (FS-2208) following back up the North Fork Cispus River on the other side. I had been here before and hadn't shot for some reason. The rain was steady and my batteries low, but I wanted to give it a show anyway. There are potentially several shots there that I can see, but without a better zoom or a telephoto, I can't shoot them from the bridge. I pushed through the vegetation to the creek edge, but it was so thick I couldn't find a view of the shots I wanted. I tried both upstream and downstream, and even hiking down to where it met the Cispus, but I just couldn't find the right locations. Frustrated and lenses fogged, I gave up and went back to the car. Next time, I will get you next time.

Rainbow and Tree Silhouettes The rain broke on the way home, and the setting sun gleamed through the clouds. I had visions of a dramatic clearing storm on Rainier, similar to what I'd seen at Kolob Canyons in Zion, but what I got was a rainbow -- one of the most brilliant rainbows I'd ever seen. The colors were so bright it almost hurt my eyes. I stopped at an empty field with a distant barn and setup my gear, composing as fast as I could (also reminiscent of Kolob Canyons), but I grabbed a couple of shots before it was gone. Disappointed, I kept driving and watched the increasing sunbreaks for a second chance. Instead of turning left at Elbe, I turned right toward Rainier and had barely made it out through town when another rainbow appeared. I found as good a places as I could to shoot, using a couple of trees as silhouettes, and managed to get off a dozen shots before it faded.

Rainbow and Tree Silhouettes

An interesting thing I learned today: you can completely remove a rainbow from a photograph by rotating the polarizer to the right spot. Makes sense, but I had no idea.

June 16, 2007

Copper Creek

Beargrass Yet another cloudy Saturday, so I decided to head for Copper Creek near the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier. This would be my third or fourth attempt to photograph the creek, and I hoped for better conditions this time. My first destination was Osbourne Mountain, however. The conditions were terrible for shooting from the viewpoint I'd found there last year, but I wanted to see if the road was still traversable after the winter floods. There are a couple of tricky spots, but I did make it up to the viewpoint, and there were patches of beargrass starting to bloom along the way. Most were still only half open, but at the peak of the hill at my viewpoint, there was a prominent one fully opened, and I stopped to shoot it.

While I was in the area, I also wanted to see if the road to the Glacier View was open, and I made it all the way without hitting any snow. I talked to some hikers coming off the trail and they said the snow was still deep on the trail, so that will have to wait until later in the summer for me. There was beargrass all along the Copper Creek Road (FS-59) as well, moreso than on the way to Osbourne, but here too they were still opening.

Mossy Boulder on Copper Creek I spent a majority of the day standing beside or in Copper Creek. The water level was good, and the thick canopy overhead blocked most of the rain. Aside from a few poorly timed sunbreaks, the weather was great for shooting a river. There was a campsite set up on the east side of the creek, but there was no one there at the time. I felt a little conspicuous there, like I was trespassing, but I never needed to get within 100 feet of their gear, or even on the same side of the creek. I explored upstream a bit, but the high winter water levels has stacked quite a bit of debris there and even rerouted part of the flow. But just up from the collapsed shelter the creek was picture perfect, and I spent most of my time here, shooting from several different places.

Cascade and Cedar on Copper CreekCopper CreekCascade and Fern

Afterward, I made a quick trek into the park to see the flood damage for myself. The Nisqually River bed is twice as wide as I remember it, and the Sunrise Point Campground really is gone. The only remnant was a distant picnic table on a piece of land jutting into the river bed. The old Kautz Creek channel was virtually dry, with just a trickle where the entire river once flowed. A few hundred yards up the road, a new section of road crossed the new river bed, flowing through the forest.

There was still quite a bit of snow in Paradise Valley, but the road was open, as was Stevens Canyon Road to Reflection Lakes. The lakes were completely thawed and ice free, but Rainier wasn't visible. Winter still held its grip at that elevation, at least on this day.

June 09, 2007

Boulder River Trail

For my first local outing of the year, given the overcast weather, I decided on the Boulder River Trail. I had hiked the four miles to the old river crossing a few years ago, but what really stuck out in my mind was the waterfall about a mile in. I'd spent time photographing it then, but it was still early in the year and the flow was pretty light at the time, little more than a trickle down the cliff face. Being later this year, I hoped for better flow.

There were a dozen cars at the trailhead, which did not bode well for solitude. A light rain had dogged me on the whole drive up, but the dense canopy overhead kept most of it at bay. The temperature was cool and surprisingly there was none of the predicted wind. Perfect conditions for a photographic stroll through the woods.

The trail is flat for the most part, following along the Boulder River about 50 feet upslope. It's a very photogenic river, but there are few access points to the river edge early in the trail that don't involve a steep scramble through underbrush. It crosses into the Boulder River Wilderness after about a quarter mile, so the hike is pretty serene. Unfortunately, after the first half mile or so the trail is more exposed and the steady light rain had me pretty wet.

Unnamed Falls The waterfall turned out even more spectacular than I had anticipated, spliting into a double stread plunging into the boulder-strewn river. The vegetation was vibrant green under the rain and clouds, and there was still none of the predicted wind. The view from the trailside was picture perfect, and I spent quite a while shooting from there. The steady rain made shooting difficult, but I managed to bungee my umbrella (brought for just such a purpose) to my tripod, serving as a handy if not precarious rain shield.

Unnamed Falls

A little farther ahead, a side trail lead down to the river edge across from the base of the waterfall. It was actually more runoff channel than trail, and the pack full of camera gear made for slow going. The season's underbrush crowded the trail and was full of the day's raindrops, so I was virtually drenched by the time I reached the river.

The scenery of both the lower falls and the view upstream were impressive, but I had a difficult time finding good compositions. I grabbed the camera bag and tripod and walked along the rocky shoreline in the rain, but struggled to find the right shots.

Cascade on Boulder River I was intrigued by a boulder and fallen tree upstream and thought they would make an interesting background to a river scene, but I had a difficult time finding as interesting of a foreground since the river bent out of range. The lower falls proved as difficult to shoot because of the lower angle and shooting directly into the rain. I snapped a few different shots, but felt the better shots were from up on the trail.

Lower Falls By this time I was soaked and my gear was damp all the way through. Keeping the camera lens dry was proving nearly impossible, and I had almost nothing dry to clean it with. Even my lens paper was now wet. After I felt I'd captuired everything there I could, I climbed back to the main trail and ventured a little further. There were a few other side trails down to different parts of the river, but none of them lead to better views. At this point, soaked and hungry, I decided to head back. I wanted to hike to the end again, but I'd accomplished my main goal. The rest would have to wait for better weather.